There are huge gaps between Arab and Jewish citizens, and the government is determined to narrow them by both allocating more resources to the Arab sector and enforcing the laws there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
His comments came in the wake of the government’s approval two weeks ago of a NIS 15 billion multi-year plan for development of Arab towns and cities, alongside his recent calls to confiscate illegal weapons in these communities.
The cabinet on Sunday approved a NIS 2b. development plan for the Druse and Circassian population, with Netanyahu saying it aims to narrow gaps and spur development of those communities that “serve in the army and see themselves as part of the State of Israel.”
Addressing the Arab population, Netanyahu said that “everyone with eyes in his head can see that there are big gaps between the Arab sectors and the Jewish population: gaps in resources, gaps in enforcing the law, gaps in rights and gaps in obligations.”
These gaps, he said, have been festering for generations, “and the time has come to make a big national effort to narrow them.” He said that over the last number of years, governments he has led have invested much in the Arab sector, including passing the recent multi-billion shekel development plan.
In parallel, Netanyahu said, there needs to be a plan to enforce the law, adding that nothing that the state is doing, in terms of education, infrastructure or economic development, can move forward “if we do not deal with the question of enforcing the laws of Israel in the Arab sector.”
“These two projects [development and law enforcement] are interwoven, and they will help all the citizens of Israel, first and foremost the Arab residents,” the prime minister said.
“Everyone who wants the true integration of all Israeli citizens into Israeli society will be part of this national effort that the government will lead in the coming years.”
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund, an NGO dedicated to improving coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens, told The Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu has demonstrated over the past 10 days that “he has no political will to implement the economic development program for the Arab sector.
“It is sad to see Netanyahu use the program as leverage in order to institutionalize the differences between the various sectors of Israeli society,” he said.
The prime minister is basically saying that there are sectors with different rights, said Beeri-Sulitzeanu, adding that he is using the state to differentiate between sectors of society such as Christian, Muslim, Druse and Beduin.
Netanyahu is conditioning the development plan on law enforcement, but “the Israeli government never offered adequate law enforcement services,” he maintained.
“Arabs pay taxes and are fulfilling their obligations as citizens, and if someone does not follow the law then there are existing tools to deal with them.”
The terrorist attack on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on January 1 “gave Netanyahu the perfect excuse to do a U-turn and link the plan with a variety of conditions,” the Abraham Fund director asserted.
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh lashed out at Netanyahu saying, “the prime minister continues to incite and use empty slogans to distract the public from discussing his failure to lead the country.
“The prime minister speaks of widespread construction as if there is meaning to this concept when talking about communities where the infrastructure is already collapsing,” Odeh said.
“We will be happy and encourage the construction of new neighborhoods with adequate infrastructure, an education system, and commerce.
“Netanyahu talks about illegal construction when he knows very well that the state prevented any possibility of development and construction in Arab villages, and left no way to build in a legally approved manner.”
Odeh added that the Arab community has been struggling for years to get weapons off the streets, and demands security.
During the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also took formal leave of outgoing Mossad director Tamir Pardo, and welcomed the new chief, Yossi Cohen.
The Mossad is an integral part of Israel’s security, and it’s becoming “more and more important in the world in which we live, with the rise of Islamic extremism and the terrorism it spreads,” the prime minister said.
In addition, he said, the Mossad has a role that is becoming increasingly important in “building ties with many countries, more than I can present here, including in the Arab world.”